The Evolution of 8 Professional Athletes

Cristiano Ronaldo

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Cristiano Ronaldo has arguably one of the best bodies in all of sports. Yet when he began playing soccer professionally in his late teens, his build was noticeably smaller. Over the years, he has added muscle, but not to the point it would interfere with his agility on the field. Cardio is a major component of his workout routine, as evidenced by his ability to pull off blazing sprints even in the late minutes of a game.

Reports on his workout routine indicate that he hits the gym five days a week, spending at least two days focusing primarily on running speed and cardio recovery. He supports his strenuous workout regimen with a healthy diet comprising lean protein, whole-grain carbs, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Ronaldo also avoids alcohol and sugary foods, and he makes a point to get to bed early, ensuring enough restful recovery time.

LeBron James

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LeBron James is widely considered one of the most talented and dominant basketball players in recent history, and he’s on his way to being considered one of the greatest players of all time. At 6 feet 8 inches tall and 250 pounds, he’s a truly imposing athlete, but like many other great sports stars, his physique has changed considerably over time.

Part of the reason for James’s significant muscle growth over his career is attributed to the fact that he became a professional athlete directly out of high school. He has added considerable mass since then, topping out at close to 270 pounds as recently as 2014. A key component to his explosive growth is his diet and workout routines. James works out four days a week, following a plan that includes squats, arm presses, and dumbbell work. Like many other elite athletes, James eats six meals spaced throughout the day to provide a constant supply of energy. He consumes a plethora of carbs from fruits and fruit juices and, of course, a good deal of lean protein.

Recently, however, James noted concern for his weight and embarked upon a 67-day diet to reduce his weight from 270 pounds to a more comfortable 250 pounds. James’s very noticeable transformation went public via an Instagram post revealing showing his thinner physique.

Michael Phelps

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You may remember Michael Phelps from his astounding performance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he brought home a record-shattering eight gold medals. He has since gone on to become the most decorated Olympian of all time and arguably the best swimmer who has ever lived. As anyone who swims knows, it can be exhausting in a way few other activities are. To supplement the extreme need for energy during competitive events, Phelps has utilized a well-documented diet plan consisting of approximately 12,000 calories a day.

What does 12,000 calories a day look like? Imagine eating anything and everything you can get your hands on, including entire pepperoni pizzas, pounds of pasta, French toast, pancakes, copious amounts of energy drinks, and more. This type of diet is clearly not recommended for mere mortals, and it serves to demonstrate the number of calories burned during a long day of competitive swimming. Even after consuming six times the daily caloric intake of an average male, Phelps remains in incredible shape.

To prepare for competition, Phelps works out six hours a day, six days a week, year round, without fail. Workouts consist of a gauntlet of swimming sets, drills, and a mix of free-weight and body-weight exercises. His workout routine is specifically engineered to develop endurance, speed, and explosive power. All of this preparation is necessary to keep up with the rapid-fire pace of competition day, where multiple events happen in quick succession. On these days, recovery and stamina are absolutely critical.

Floyd Mayweather

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Boxing is one of several sports in which weight can actually determine an athlete’s ability to qualify for a match. In order to level the playing field, fights are broken up by weight classes, ensuring that two opponents are typically within a few pounds of each other’s weight. This helps prevent a sort of David vs. Goliath situation in the ring.

Floyd Mayweather is considered by many to be today’s best active boxer and has backed up that reputation with a spotless record of 49-0-0. What is more impressive is that he has won titles in various weight classes, either bulking up or slimming down to match the weight of other champions. As a result of the weight class system in professional boxing, photos of Mayweather over time depict a roller coaster of size and weight fluctuations.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort and dedication in the gym to perform at an elite level across a variety of weight classes. How does Mayweather do it? He has a serious work ethic in the gym. His workouts include sparring, bag and mitt work, weight training, and, of course, plenty of sit-ups. He’s not shy about showing his work either, as evidenced by his seemingly endless stream of workout videos available on YouTube. As for diet, Mayweather tends to eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He reportedly pays his personal chef $1,000 a plate to prepare meals at his whim, no matter what time of day. She works diligently to create healthful, high-protein dishes for the champ – a far cry from the typical fast food diet from his earlier years.

Tiger Woods

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A golf prodigy from a very young age, Tiger Woods took the sports world by storm when he won his first championship in 1997 in Augusta, GA. The ensuing flurry of decisive victories cemented Woods as one of golf’s all-time greats. A lot has changed since Woods’s decade of dominance, and even though he has struggled to find his swing in the last several years, he stays dedicated to the game. Woods fully believes that a strict and rigorous gym routine is a golf fundamental, as evidenced by the stacks of muscle he has packed on since his younger days at Stanford.

Saying that Woods works hard in the gym is a bit of an understatement. He’s become a gym rat, working out sometimes as often as six days a week for hours each time. His routines consist of stretching and high-rep weight training utilizing a wide range of equipment and encompassing the entire body. His runs can go up to seven miles when he is training for endurance. Such an intense dedication to fitness has not only changed Woods’s physical appearance, but it has permanently elevated the importance of conditioning across the entire tour. Spending time in the gym was previously unheard of on the golf scene, but with Woods’s success as proof, many pros are taking a more active approach to the game.

Serena Williams

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You know her as perhaps the most dominant female tennis player in the history of the game. She’s bigger, stronger, and faster than the competition, and it shows. Serena Williams has been making waves on the tennis scene for a long time now, and it’s taken a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, and tears to get to that level. If you don’t follow the sport closely, you may be unaware that she suffered a serious foot injury in 2010 and suffered from blood clots in her lungs in 2011.

What may have ended a career for a lesser athlete was just a minor setback for Williams. She jumped back into the game and regained her No. 1 world ranking in no time. She has since racked up win after win and shows no signs of slowing. Her recovery efforts involved a variety of exercises, including swimming, running, biking, and dancing. Like any other elite athlete, her fitness routine has become part of her life. But exercise alone isn’t enough to sustain such a great physique into her 30s. Williams admits to a change in her diet, choosing natural, raw foods over the Southern staples she has always loved.

Shaun White

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High-flying stunts at the Winter X Games and the Olympics earned Shaun White an unusual nickname – The Flying Tomato. The name makes sense if you’ve ever seen photos of White’s wild red locks. But that was then, and he’s since changed his look in many ways.

While little is known about his workout habits, Shaun White has added on a fair bit of muscle since he burst onto the scene in the early 2000s. What we do know is that he works very, very hard at everything he does. In the prime of his snowboarding career, he was even able to secure a private halfpipe carved into the side of a mountain somewhere in the wilderness of Colorado. This allowed White to practice uninterrupted and to perfect tricks nobody had ever imagined before unleashing them on an unsuspecting public in competitive matches.

The extensive travel required for his many different ventures takes him to all corners of the world. He notes there isn’t as much time as one might think to venture out and find great places to eat while on the road, but he does have a weakness for Chinese food of any sort, and he prefers to eat steak on nights before a competition. Whatever he’s doing, it appears to be working, as he can now properly fill out a suit and – with a shorter hairstyle – looks quite dapper.

Tim Tebow

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Collegiate sports and professional sports are two totally different beasts. Just ask Tim Tebow. The once unstoppable Florida Gator went from being the best in his class to struggling to keep a job in a hurry when he joined the Denver Broncos for the 2010 season.

Tebow’s failed transition to the NFL is interesting for a variety of reasons, including his impressive physical stats. At 6 feet 4-inches tall and 240 pounds, he’s a giant by any standard. After photos emerged showing Tebow at an estimated 250 pounds during one off-season, some argued that his bulky build may have been too much for his position. One thing is for sure: Even if his passing game was never on point in the big leagues, his workout game absolutely was.

Like any other elite athlete on this list, Tebow has an avid dedication to fitness. Videos online showing Tebow’s intense workout routine show a mix of body-weight exercises, footwork drills, and some serious heavy lifting. As for his diet, he sticks to a very healthful mix of foods including spinach shakes, protein shakes, and a hearty breakfast of egg whites, fresh fruit, and oatmeal.

Train Like an Athlete

The professional athletes profiled here didn’t wake up incredibly fit – they focus on proper nutrition and dedicate much of their lives to training and exercise. If you’re looking to achieve your own athletic transformation, take a page from their books and start getting in shape today. If you like to work out in the comfort of your home, check out our guide to exercise bikes and discover which is best for you.


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